[IAEP] [Sugar-devel] versus, not

Costello, Rob R Costello.Rob.R at edumail.vic.gov.au
Sun May 10 12:46:11 EDT 2009

We've had some of this discussion before : Alan has mentioned the arch
metaphor before-as a key insight in building / architecture, that is
distinct from mere brick laying, and so is never reached through
repetition of laying however many bricks  - as an analogy for a type of
learning or mathematics that is not reached by mere repetition of lower
order skills 


Also used a related metaphor that the real test of learning is the
ability to do the 'real thing' at some level, not just reciting learning
'about' a topic (or switching to a music analogy he has also used, can
the student do more than play scales? as useful as that may skill and
drill may be... 


(and also do more than the air guitar version which might get smuggled
in (or even advocated) as a watered down version of the topic that is
easier to 'teach' and 'learn')


Anyway, re-reading some of the previous discussions, I find we have all
generally been in agreement that there is a place for "skill and drill" 


So an argument that perhaps needs to be put to rest, as one that no
educators seem to actually hold, as far as I can tell, is the suggestion
that there is no role for direct instruction 


My own observation is that while it is indeed possible to structure
curriculum in a way that is more self directed and still has enough
structured scaffolds (such as well sequenced materials that can accessed
on demand, and mixes in some project driven enquiries) , in most cases a
strong thread of direct instruction can be justified and is often needed


However a curriculum that does not go beyond this, that does not
encourage performance or real competence as a test of learning, is, in
these terms, the equivalent of only ever playing scales or brick laying,
- ie it does not reach the 'arch' of understanding which gives new
meaning and beauty to the brick laying exercise, or allow students to
reach an authentic performance with some musical feel -



Idit Harel : "even "successful" pupils within this approach are often
left with a kind of knowledge which some have called "inert",
mathematical knowledge which may suffice for passing tests but which is
not useful or available outside the classroom context in which it was
originally learned.

(Educational Studies in Mathematics 24: 319-327, 1993)  


Some feel it's the state of teachers that leads to this -- others hope
that new and innovative software will transform the field


So this sense that state of traditional education  is selling us short
on real learning, or at least under doing the potential  - is what I
suspect informs many here at some level, in an attempt to better
resource education.  And yes, education has often swung too hard and
simplistically from one position to another ...which is where some of us
want to try to understand and contribute


Rereading a previous round of this (archives June 2008 on
'reconstructing maths-


has got me going to back to a Papert article on possible math educations



and following a provocative paragraph 

"A particularly clean example is an apparent paradox in the report by
Sfard and Leron (in press). They ask which of the following two problems
is harder: 

P1: Given three points, (2,3), (-1,4), and (0,-1), in the plane, find
the center and the radius of the circle through them.
P2: Write a computer program that accepts any three points in the plane
(given by their coordinates) and returns the center and the radius of
the circle through them. 

Since P2 asks for more than P1, one could argue that tautologically it
must be harder. But Sfard and Leron report that more than half of their
students failed at P1 and nearly all succeeded at P2. Why? It is not any
magic of the computer except the fact that working at the computer
transforms the stance of the students from "solving a problem" to
"pursuing a project."  

Reading through some of the work of these authors and colleagues in
Journals - some via uni library - but some is also open online  




leads further to the interesting idea of mathematics is built on more
homely metaphors




this is seemingly very non practical - as the logical discipline of
mathematics itself can appear to be - but for some educators such as
myself its all valuable learning, - we share a role in engaging in
better IT mediated learning experiences (of math and other areas), so I
at least find this compelling research, even in a parallel universe
where software is not necessarily 'free'- 


[eg someone mentioned the need a while ago to do the 'unsexy work of
uploading and mapping n curriculum against x activities' - that's been
exactly my role for the last 4 months in that parallel world - I wrote
some tools to help  - I often see the same general issues coming up all
over the place - [ie what philosophy of learning? What system structure?
Do developers really need to bother with this? ] it clarifies my
thinking to see the issues in other contexts - helps try to find the
superstructure that these issues are derived from] ... I think there are
common concerns about learning, and developing systems that are more
readily and deeply accessible to students as learning tools


So the reflective thinking / debate about IT and learning has been worth
hanging around for - risking these questions might lead to better
answers for those who are gripped by the questions, in whatever context


[I had hoped to run a school sugar trial and may still do so if I can
..but either way all this is learning that will underpin some kids









From: iaep-bounces at lists.sugarlabs.org
[mailto:iaep-bounces at lists.sugarlabs.org] On Behalf Of Bill Kerr
Sent: Friday, 8 May 2009 6:37 PM
To: Martin Langhoff
Cc: iaep; Sugar-dev Devel
Subject: Re: [IAEP] [Sugar-devel] versus, not


I'm not sure what is meant by a "big tent"

Why do some people want a big tent for learning theory but not a big
tent which accepts both FOSS and proprietary software? Phrasing it that
way is intended to encourage people to think about what sort of thing is
learning and hopefully will not be interpreted as just being provocative
for its own sake.

you can have a big tent where people don't discuss learning theory
because it's too hard to reach agreement

you can have a big tent where people passionately argue about learning
theory but actually listen to what each is saying and argue rationally

when I look at minsky's theory of mind I see that he supports multiple
models of thinking but also argues against models of thinking that he
thinks are incorrect or which emphasise only one way of doing things,
eg. although he helped create connectionism he now thinks it has too
much influence

that suggests another version of a big tent which I favour - cherry
picking the best parts out of different learning theories / activities
based on criteria (not stated here) that are substantial

I don't believe that thinking people are agnostic about how people learn

it seems to me that alan kay has presented a possibly strategic view of
progress on these questions (that learning about bricks will not
automatically lead to building arches, that we need more than just
focusing on building blocks) - but that for various reasons we are not
in a position to implement the learning materials based on that view in
practice in the activities

for me to sit in the big tent holding a strategic view feels different
to "too hard basket", agnosticism or a tower of babble - teaching with
an underlying strategic view is very different to just going along with
the tide

that would mean work to understand and implement that strategic view but
also accept that we are not there yet (it will take some time) and so it
is perfectably understandable and desirable that people will use and
develop whatever is at hand or which they think important to develop -
no one can stop that anyway accept by successful arguing someone out of

Does the "big tent" phrase add clarity to this conversation? 

On Tue, May 5, 2009 at 4:59 PM, Martin Langhoff
<martin.langhoff at gmail.com> wrote:

On Tue, May 5, 2009 at 3:03 AM, Walter Bender <walter.bender at gmail.com>
> Fair enough. I agree that *most* people on the list agree that there
> is not just one right way. And to use a metaphor that has been
> oft-spoken in the US news of late, Sugar Labs has to have a "big
> tent."
> Sugar itself has affordances that can be used in support of many
> educational approaches and virtually any content area.

Completely for the big tent, and wide ranging use models. It also
means I have to swallow hard when people use things I build in ways
that I consider... not particularly good. You might hear me mention
that "that's a practise that I don't emphasize" ;-)


 martin.langhoff at gmail.com
 martin at laptop.org -- School Server Architect
 - ask interesting questions
 - don't get distracted with shiny stuff  - working code first
 - http://wiki.laptop.org/go/User:Martinlanghoff


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